Feeling Modern: Citizenship and Emotional Correctness in Salaverry’s El pueblo y el tirano

In post-independence Peru, pro-social sentiment in the form of the social passions (emotions such as compassion and pity that were seen as innate) and the social virtues (practices based on these emotions such as charity, beneficence, philanthropy and particularly humanidad) became the primary agents guaranteeing a free citizen’s modernity. From the moment of independence on, in other words, such affective states were a key component in the performance of elite citizenship in 19th-century Peru. One might say that in this way the very enactment of civic personhood was tinged with a kind of emotional correctness.

In this presentation, I look in detail at one particular moment in the history of Peruvian civic emotion—the 1860s, the decade when a strong literary scene first emerged (in close conjunction with the state), that of the generación romántica. If Ricardo Palma was its outstanding prose writer, Carlos Augusto Salaverry was its outstanding poet. Looking in detail at Salaverry’s never-republished and almost unknown 1862 drama El pueblo y el tirano, which puts pro-social sentiment on display within a theorization of the social contract, I show how Salaverry makes the affective element central to the relationship between ruler and citizen. Salaverry’s play, in other words, consecrates certain public emotions as “correct” for an elite citizen of the republic, describing a kind of emotional modernity well past the moment of independence.

Track: 

  • Spanish American Studies